October 22, 2014

Should You Buy a New Refrigerator?

You can find good information about appliances in large and small news outlets. I recently found a clear, simple explanation in the Cape Cod Times of why it could be worthwhile to replace a refrigerator even if it seems to be running perfectly.

Thanks to updates to federal energy appliance standards, all of today’s major home appliances do use much less energy. If you’ve got a product you use often like a refrigerator, washing machine or other major home appliance that is 10 to 15 years old or more, you’ll probably offset the purchase price of a new one by saving enough money on its energy use in the coming years.

I know it might not seem to make a lot of sense, especially in today’s economy, to replace a major appliance that seems to be working well just because it’s old. But this could cut monthly utility bills substantially.

Just like the purchase price of a new car is actually what you pay the dealer to buy it, pay the mechanic over time to maintain it, and pay the gas station over time to fuel it, appliances also need to be viewed as having the same types of actual costs.

A new refrigerator, for example, that carries the government’s ENERGY STAR designation showing that it greatly exceeds current minimum standards will probably save $1,000 or more over its lifetime compared to an older model.

The yellow EnergyGuide labels that come with major appliances show the estimated annual energy consumption of the model and other information regarding its energy efficiency. They also show where the appliance fits into the range of energy consumption of comparable products.

Most new appliances probably will last for many years, and energy-efficient models will continue to pay you back with lower energy costs over their lifetimes.

Check out the ENERGY STAR Web site that gives information on special offers, sales tax exemptions or credits, rebates and other discounts on energy-efficient products in your area at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction rebate.rebate—locator.

You also ought to look around your home to see how many products you’ve got plugged into electrical outlets. About 20 percent of the average family’s utility bill goes toward powering these home appliances. It’ll help you appreciate the importance of buying efficient products.

One shopping tip that can help save money is to buy only the features you need. If you figure a certain-sized refrigerator is best for your family, don’t be tempted to get a bigger one. Will you use the through-the-door water dispenser or the ice maker? If so, they can be great features. If not, they add not only to the purchase price but to the unit’s energy use as well.

The bottom line is simple. When buying an appliance for your home, keep in mind that the cost of the energy to operate it over its lifetime will very likely be more than you’re paying for it. Purchasing an energy-efficient model makes a lot of sense.

How Your Automatic Ice Maker Makes Ice

A tall glass of iced tea or lemonade seems to symbolize summer, and it seems we are all adding ice to our drinks. I remember those old fashioned metal ice cube trays with a lever that was lifted to release the cubes. Those were followed by plastic trays that we twisted to get to the ice. Now I have noticed that it is nearly impossible to find a new refrigerator without an automatic ice maker built into it. If you’ve ever listened to your freezer making ice and wondered exactly how the system works, howstuffworks.com has the answer for you. We’ll share the gist of for you:

An ice maker works like those plastic trays, but the process of pouring water and extracting cubes is fully automated. A home ice maker is an ice-cube assembly line.

Most ice makers use an electric motor, an electrically operated water valve and an electrical heating unit. To provide power to all these elements, you have to hook the icemaker up to the electrical circuit powering your refrigerator. You also have to hook the icemaker up to the plumbing line in your house, to provide fresh water for the ice cubes. The power line and the water-intake tube both run through a hole in the back of the freezer.

When everything is hooked up, the ice maker begins its cycle. The cycle is usually controlled by a simple electrical circuit and a series of switches.

  • At the beginning of the cycle, a timed switch in the circuit briefly sends current to a solenoid water valve. In most designs, the water valve is actually positioned behind the refrigerator, but it is connected to the central circuit via electrical wires. When the circuit sends current down these wires, the charge moves a solenoid (a type of electromagnet), which opens the valve.
  • The valve is only open for about seven seconds; it lets in just enough water to fill the ice mold. The ice mold is a plastic well, with several connected cavities. Typically, these cavities have a curved, half-circle shape. Each of the cavity walls has a small notch in it so each ice cube will be attached to the cube next to it.
  • Once the mold is filled, the machine waits for the water in the mold to freeze. The cooling unit in the refrigerator does the actual work of freezing the water, not the ice maker itself. The ice maker has a built-in thermostat, which monitors the temperature level of the water in the molds. When the temperature dips to a particular level — say, 9 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 degrees Celsius) — the thermostat closes a switch in the electrical circuit.
  • Closing this switch lets electrical current flow through a heating coil underneath the ice maker. As the coil heats up, it warms the bottom of the ice mold, loosening the ice cubes from the mold surface.
  • The electrical circuit then activates the ice maker’s motor. The motor spins a gear, which rotates another gear attached to a long plastic shaft. The shaft has a series of ejector blades extending out from it. As the blades revolve, they scoop the ice cubes up and out of the mold, pushing them to the front of the ice maker. Since the cubes are connected to one another, they move as a single unit.
  • At the front of the ice maker, there are plastic notches in the housing that match up with the ejector blades. The blades pass through these notches, and the cubes are pushed out to a collection bin underneath the ice maker.
  • The revolving shaft has a notched plastic cam at its base. Just before the cubes are pushed out of the ice maker, the cam catches hold of the shut-off arm, lifting it up. After the cubes are ejected, the arm falls down again. When the arm reaches its lowest resting position, it throws a switch in the circuit, which activates the water valve to begin another cycle. If the arm can’t reach its lowest position, because there are stacked-up ice cubes in the way, the cycle is interrupted. This keeps the ice maker from filling your entire freezer with ice; it will only make more cubes when there is room in the collection bin.

It’s quite a system, and one we should appreciate on a 100 degree day.